November 03, 2018

Miami’s ‘sisterhood’ of Democrats makes a closing argument focused on healthcare

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@alextdaugherty

Zero men grabbed the microphone at a rally in front of the Community Bible Baptist Church in South Dade on Saturday.

In a year where Democrats are hoping that an uptick of women candidates can spur a blue wave across the country, Miami’s three women running for Congress — Donna Shalala, Mary Barzee Flores and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell — stood together to make their closing argument to voters and activists.

“It’s been a long road for all of us and I’ve been talking about this sisterhood that we’ve developed, Mary, Donna and I because even though we come from different background and experiences we share the same goals,” Mucarsel-Powell said. “We have to fight for the soul of our country right now.”

Democrats are hoping to send an all-female Miami-Dade delegation to Washington next year, part of 197 female candidates across the country running for the U.S. House and Senate. Their message mirrored the thousands of TV commercials being run across South Florida in the closing weeks of the campaign highlighting healthcare as the most important issue on the ballot this year, after Republicans tried and failed to repeal Obamacare during the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidency.

“It’s the year of the woman and look, you know all the issues Democrats stand for,” Shalala said. “Healthcare is a woman’s issue because it’s often the women in the family who determines who goes to the doctor and usually kick their significant other to go. And so eliminating preexisting conditions means that [Republicans] are eliminating health insurance, it’s as simple as that.”

More here.

October 19, 2018

Democrats in key Florida Congressional races raised eye-popping sums in the third quarter

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via @kirbywtweets

Florida Democrats picked up some major fundraising momentum in August and September, with candidates out-raising their Republican opponents in seven key Congressional races during that time.

Democrats raised more money than Republicans in the races for Florida's 6th, 15th, 16th, 18th, 25th, 26th and 27th — all potential Democratic flips, according to FEC filings. Of the Democrats running in those seven districts, five led their Republican opponents in total cash on hand going into the final stretch of the 2018 elections. (The analysis in this article includes figures from the campaigns' official committees, not outside or PAC money.)

Included in that list is Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis' old district, FL-6, where Democrat Nancy Soderberg raised almost $800,000. Soderberg's Republican opponent, Michael Waltz, raised just over $600,000. The election forecasting website Fivethirtyeight lists the district as "lean Republican," giving Soderberg about a 27 percent chance to flip it.

Democrat Kristen Carlson, who's running a strong race for the FL-15 left open by Republican Dennis Ross' retirement, also dominated her Republican opponent in third quarter fundraising. She raised over $600,000, compared to Republican Ross Spano's $219,000 haul. Fivethirtyeight says that district, which favored President Trump by 10 points in 2016, is a dead heat.

In FL-27, another seat left open by a retiring Republican, Democrats are desperately hoping to win a district that favored Hillary Clinton by almost 20 points. Donna Shalala raised over $866,000 in the third quarter, compared to Republican Maria Elvira Salazar's haul of $520,000.

Those are races for open seats. In a district like FL-16, where a Democrat has to knock off a Republican incumbent, the climb is steeper. But Democrat David Shapiro still out-raised incumbent Republican Vern Buchanan in the third quarter by over $360,000. Fivethirtyeight says Shapiro has about a one-in-seven chance to flip the seat.

It was a similar story in FL-18 and FL-25, where Democrats Lauren Baer and Mary Barzee Flores out-raised incumbent Republicans Brian Mast and Mario Diaz-Balart. Barzee has about a 25 percent chance to win her race, per Fivethirtyeight; the forecasting site gives Baer the longest odds of any Democratic candidate mentioned in this article.

Republicans have some reason for optimism as well. For one thing, Fivethirtyeight says Republicans are favored to keep five of the seven districts mentioned here. For another, fundraising is only so important at this late stage. Many television ad buys have already been made, and the closer a buy is made to election day, the more expensive it is.

Also on the fundraising front, Republican mega-donor and billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has pledged to donate tens of millions more to the Republican effort to maintain control of Congress before all is said and done.

Democrats need a net of 23 House seat pickups to regain control of the chamber in 2019. Fivethirtyeight gives the party a five-in-six chance to gain at least that many. If Democrats do, Florida could be a big reason why.

Shalala, Mucarsel-Powell will not return money from Castro-supporting lawmaker

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Barbara Lee never came to Miami.

But the mere mention of the California lawmaker’s name on the programming flier for a campaign event in Coral Gables was enough to trigger a protest, a call for South Florida Democratic candidates to divest from her campaign contributions and an attack ad from a Super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The congresswoman, who turned heads in 2016 by praising former Cuban dictator Fidel Castro after his death, was listed as an expected guest at a “Get Out the Vote” event on press releases issued by the campaigns of Democrat Donna Shalala and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

Despite the protest flare-up outside the event on Wednesday -- a crowd of mostly Cuban-American demonstrators yelled and waived anti-communism signs -- Shalala and Mucarsel-Powell said Thursday they will not return the $5,500 Lee donated to their campaigns ahead of the November election.

Lee, whose name was scrubbed from the event without explanation, donated $2,000 to the campaign of Shalala, who is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.

Lee also donated $3,500 to Mucarsel-Powell, who is running in Florida’s 26th Congressional District against incumbent Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

In a statement to the Herald, Salazar campaign spokesman Jose Luis Castillo hammered Shalala for agreeing to appear alongside Lee and declining to return Lee’s donations.

“[Her] total disconnect and lack of empathy with this community is appalling,” he said. “Barbara Lee’s longtime admiration for Fidel Castro is deeply offensive to the Cuban community, as well as all freedom-loving people everywhere.”

After Castro’s death in 2016, Lee told the San Jose Mercury News that “we need to stop and pause and mourn his loss” and that she was “very sad for the Cuban people.”

“He led a revolution in Cuba that led social improvements for his people,” Lee said then, adding that during her eight meetings with Castro over the years, she found him to be a “smart man” and a “historian” who “wanted normal relations with the United States, but not at the expense of the accomplishments of the revolution.”

The candidates said they disagreed with Lee’s sentiments toward Castro and argued that the views of their donors are not necessarily representative of their own views, although demands that candidates return money from unsavory or controversial figures have already been an issue in the race for District 26.

More here.

October 16, 2018

Independent poll shows Carlos Curbelo with a slim lead over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

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@alextdaugherty

An independent poll shows Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo with a 1 point lead over Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell—and a contingent of undecided voters large enough to decide the election.

A poll conducted by Mason Dixon Strategies and Telemundo 51 from October 3 to October 9 with 625 registered voters who said they were likely to vote showed a race that is essentially a toss-up for Curbelo’s Miami to Key West congressional seat that President Donald Trump lost more than 16 percentage points two years ago. Curbelo captures 46 percent support while Mucarsel-Powell takes 45 percent. Nine percent of voters are undecided as both campaigns spend millions on TV advertising.

Curbelo once had a lead in the race but Mucarsel-Powell has closed the gap in recent weeks through increased TV spending. Curbelo is better known than Mucarsel-Powell according to the poll and has a higher favorability rating, though Mucarsel-Powell has a lower unfavorable rating than Curbelo. The poll’s margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning the race is essentially a tie.

More here.

Sensing an upset, Paul Ryan-aligned super PAC attacks Donna Shalala

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@alextdaugherty

National Republicans are getting serious about trying to beat Donna Shalala

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, is running a Spanish-language ad targeting Shalala starting today. The six-figure buy on TV and digital platforms is the super PAC’s first foray into retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s district, a Miami-based seat where President Donald Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by nearly 20 points. 

The ad titled “$7” tries to portray Shalala as out of touch with working class voters in the district, noting that she lived in a mansion that eventually sold for $9 million while serving as the president of the University of Miami and led the university when its janitorial staff went on strike because their wages amounted to about $7 an hour. Shalala’s Republican opponent, former TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar, levied a similar attack on Shalala during a recent Telemundo debate.

“Donna Shalala is just another politician who puts herself first,” said CLF communications director Courtney Alexander. “As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a $9 million mansion, but only paid university janitors $7 an hour while denying them health insurance. Donna Shalala is out for herself, not Floridians.”

The ad includes footage of a mansion juxtaposed with Shalala giving a speech in her UM regalia while criticizing her leadership when university janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages, attacks that she also faced during the Democratic primary. 

“As president of the University of Miami, Shalala lived in a nine-million dollar mansion,” the ad says. “But only paid university janitors seven dollars an hour while denying them health insurance.The scandal made national news and Shalala was called an enemy of the working poor.”

More here.

October 11, 2018

New poll shows Democrat Shalala trailing GOP opponent in a district Trump lost badly

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@alextdaugherty @newsbysmiley

Donna Shalala may be in trouble.

Shalala, a Democrat running in a district that President Donald Trump lost by nearly 20 percentage points in 2016, is trailing Republican TV journalist Maria Elvira Salazar by 2 percentage points in a Mason Dixon-Telemundo poll. The independent poll’s margin of error was 4 percentage points and included a pro-Trump non-party candidate who could siphon votes from Salazar.

Salazar’s unique background as a journalist in a party dominated by President Donald Trump and her appeal with older, Spanish-speaking voters has enabled the GOP to remain competitive. Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates, won a competitive Democratic primary by less than 5 percentage points and has faced criticism from liberal Democrats and Republicans alike for her tenure leading the University of Miami, when campus janitors went on a hunger strike over low wages and the school acquired Cedars Medical Center.

“The numbers look good, they’re great,” Salazar campaign manager Jose Luis Castillo said. “She’s focused on job creation, healthcare, the environment and education. These numbers really reflect that her message, her ideas and vision are continuing to resonate throughout with voters in District 27.”

The poll of 625 registered likely voters was conducted from Oct. 1 to Oct. 6, before Shalala began airing a TV ad that attempts to tie Salazar to Trump. Forty-three percent of respondents approve of Trump while 46 percent disapprove, according to the poll, while Salazar has a net favorable rating of 22 percentage points and Shalala has a net favorability rating of 4 points, though more voters recognize her than Salazar. Forty-two percent of voters support Shalala while 44 percent support Salazar, with 13 percent undecided.

“In our view, the Mason-Dixon poll is an outlier,” Shalala spokesperson Mike Hernandez said. “It does not match our internal polls both in terms of what the electorate will be or voter intention.”

Shalala’s campaign noted that Trump’s approval ratings in the district in the poll are much higher than expected and that a 2012 Mason Dixon poll sponsored by the Miami Herald showed Barack Obama winning Miami-Dade by 9 points when he ended up winning the county by 24 points.

“It’s difficult for our campaign to accept that this is the only congressional district in the country that Trump is becoming dramatically more popular,” Hernandez said.

Read more here.

October 08, 2018

Everybody knows her name, but Donna Shalala is finding it difficult to get to Congress

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@lesleyclark

Donna Shalala is so well known in Miami she has to tell voters it’s “really me” when she makes campaign calls. Otherwise, she says, some people assume it’s a robocall.

She’s big in Miami: the former University of Miami president who raised academic standards and billions of dollars, boosted the school’s national profile and raided other universities to put the medical school on the map. She was famous even before she arrived, as a Bill Clinton ally and the longest-serving Health and Human Services Secretary in U.S. history.

Outside the university, she eagerly promoted her adopted hometown: “She’d show up herself, not just send the third assistant to the vice president,” former Beacon Council president Frank Nero said of Shalala, who aided his efforts to lure companies to Miami. “She’d come in and she’d tell executives: ‘I could have gone anywhere, but I chose to come to Miami.’ She became one of the best sales people we had for Miami-Dade.”

Yet Shalala finds herself in a tight race against a political rookie for an open congressional seat that Democrats figured would be theirs after Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, announced she is retiring. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly 20 percentage points in the Democratic-leaning district — the highest margin of victory in the country for Clinton in a district currently held by a Republican.

As recently as January, Republicans fretted they were unlikely to find someone for the seat that encompasses Little Havana, most of downtown Miami and Miami Beach. Ros-Lehtinen in 2016 had faced a close reelection against a largely self-funded candidate who did not have the backing of national Democrats.

Now it’s Democrats who are worried: Two recent internal polls showed Shalala either losing or nearly tied with her Republican opponent, Maria Elvira Salazar, a telegenic former Spanish-language TV host who is well known in the district, where 63 percent of the voters are Hispanic.

Shalala, who won a crowded Democratic primary in August, says early polls showed that people know her résumé. But she says the race will turn not on her record, but her character.

“It can’t be ‘I’m Donna Shalala and you ought to vote for me,’ ” Shalala said in a recent interview at a South Miami restaurant. “You have to be out there, talking to people about what kind of a human being you are.”

But there are worries that Shalala, as accomplished as her record may be, isn’t connecting on the trail, especially against a Spanish-speaking television anchor accustomed to the camera.

“Donna’s a very no-nonsense person and that can come across as brusque because she likes to cut to the chase,” acknowledges Katy Sorenson, a former Miami-Dade commissioner who created the Good Government Initiative at the University of Miami with Shalala’s blessing. “But she’s someone who cares deeply, and that’s reflected by her life and her career.”

Read more here.

‘We are not the enemies’: GOP candidate touts journalism career in congressional race

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@martindvassolo @alextdaugherty

Maria Elvira Salazar is trying to hug her way to Congress.

The telegenic former TV host turned Republican candidate is at Las Mercedes senior center in West Dade, a campaign stop full of elderly Cuban-American voters who helped fuel the GOP’s dominance in Miami for the last 40 years.

Everyone recognizes her. Most do not speak English.

Salazar works the room, hugging dozens who are eager to chat with someone they saw on TV for years. One asks her how she’s in such good shape for a 56-year-old.

“I don’t eat dairy,” Salazar replies with a laugh.

She is seeking to pull off an upset in the country’s most Democratic-leaning district currently under GOP control in a year where Democrats are poised to make gains in Congress. Her opponent is former University of Miami president and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, one of the most experienced first-time congressional candidates ever.

In an era where President Donald Trump shouts “fake news” at unflattering news coverage and belittles journalists who ask him tough questions, the Republican Party is putting its faith in a woman who touts her 35-year career in news reporting — and has vowed to serve as a centrist not beholden to the conservative wing or the president.

Republicans need to keep 24 seats from flipping blue if they want to maintain the House of Representatives for the latter half of Trump’s first term in office. Salazar, who voted for Trump, is running in Florida’s 27th Congressional District, one that Trump lost by more than 19 percentage points in 2016, the largest margin of defeat for the president in any district held by a Republican. But Salazar has the support of retiring Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen — who won reelection in 2016 by 10 percentage points despite Trump’s presence on the ballot — and local Republicans like Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Carlos Curbelo.

“Being a journalist for 35 years it’s very difficult to stop being one,” Salazar said. “I covered the first year of [Trump’s] presidency so there is my record. I’ve always covered the issues, not on the fluff or on the words.”

Salazar is campaigning as Ileana 2.0. She’s indicated an openness to a ban on assault weapons, backs Curbelo’s new carbon tax proposal and says she’ll fight for comprehensive immigration reform if elected.

And she’s aware of the potential challenges Trump poses to her candidacy.

“The Republican Party, its values, the values that are entrenched are bigger than the president,” Salazar said. “I understand that Trump is an unconventional guy, I get that sometimes his words are not the proper ones, but I see what he’s done for the country, and what he’s done for China and North Korea no other president did.”

Salazar insists that she’s seeing a path to victory, and polling shows a closer-than-expected contest between Shalala, a former Clinton administration official and Clinton Foundation executive who does not speak Spanish, and Salazar, a known presence on Spanish-language television.

“Surprise!” she says when asked about her potential to steal what should have been a Democratic layup. “I can’t tell you the secret but the path to victory is there.”

Read more here.

Miami Republicans running for reelection grapple with Trump’s immigration record

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@alextdaugherty

Donald Trump’s first year in office forced Miami Republicans to step on the third rail of GOP politics: immigration.

The president banned foreign nationals from seven majority Muslim countries from entering the country weeks after he took office, setting off protests around the country. He announced the end of an Obama-era program to prevent the deportation of immigrants who came to the U.S. as young children, calling on Congress to act. The Trump administration began separating families and children who crossed the border illegally, and some parents were deported while their kids remained in U.S. custody. And Trump canceled a temporary program that allowed immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras to live and work in the U.S. without the threat of deportation.

The three Miami Republicans in Congress, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo and Mario Diaz-Balart, were opposed to all of these policy changes. The trio have the largest shares of eligible Latino voters in their districts among all Republicans in Congress and have tried for years to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. They want to prevent their law-abiding constituents from being deported, but they’ve been stymied by their own party.

All three GOP-held seats are being contested by serious Democratic candidates. Former nonprofit fundraiser Debbie Mucarsel-Powell is running against Curbelo, former University of Miami president Donna Shalala is running for Ros-Lehtinen’s seat, and former judge Mary Barzee Flores is running against Diaz-Balart.

“That’s been my biggest disappointment,” Diaz-Balart said about the lack of an immigration compromise in the past two years. “In order to get that issue done, you need to put hyper-partisanship aside. You need to have the trust of everybody around the table.”

Republicans in Congress have been unable to overrule the president’s executive order, find a solution for the young immigrants known as Dreamers and help individuals receiving Temporary Protected Status. Instead, they’ve been reliant on liberal judges to prevent deportations. Last week, a federal judge in California ruled against the Trump administration’s decision to end TPS, and Dreamers remain in legal limbo weeks from Election Day.

“Such great news for our South Florida community!” Ros-Lehtinen tweeted last week after the TPS decision. “We have wonderful folks from these countries who have been here legally and their pending deportations would be heartaches for their familias!”

The Democrats seeking to replace the trio largely agree with the South Florida Republicans on immigration policy, though they likely wouldn’t support handing Trump money for his border wall in exchange for protecting existing immigrants from deportation. They’re arguing that a Democratic majority in Congress is the way to get an immigration solution.

There isn’t any evidence that Curbelo and Diaz-Balart, along with Maria Elvira Salazar, the Republican seeking to replace Ros-Lehtinen, could convince the majority of their party to come up with a solution should they all win on Nov. 6. Curbelo and Diaz-Balart were part of a small group of lawmakers who first negotiated with Democrats to find a solution for Dreamers, an effort that fell two votes short. Then, they tried to negotiate with conservatives in their own party, an effort that saw a conservative compromise immigration bill fail badly.

“It’s truly disappointing that after months of broken promises from Speaker [Paul] Ryan for Dreamers, Congressman Curbelo caved so easily to House Republican Leadership and handed over every piece of leverage on DACA to the most anti-immigrant Republicans in Congress,” Curbelo’s Democratic opponent, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, said shortly after Curbelo’s compromise effort failed this summer.

More here.

October 04, 2018

Liberal group calling for Trump's impeachment gets involved in Mario Diaz-Balart's race

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@alextdaugherty

NextGen America will now have a presence in all three competitive House races in Miami-Dade County. 

The liberal group led by California billionaire Tom Steyer that wants to impeach Donald Trump announced Thursday that they plan to expand their voter registration and youth organizing effort to Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart's district, where he faces a competitive reelection challenge from Demcorat Mary Barzee Flores

“All across the country, we’re seeing an unprecedented level of enthusiasm from young voters that has the potential to fundamentally reshape our political system and create a society that is more just and fair.” Steyer said in a statement“If we are going to deliver a more just, progressive future, it means being on the ground engaging those young voters everyday to make sure they know the power they have to make change happen on the issues they’re passionate about.”

Diaz-Balart's district, which stretches from Northwest Dade to the outskirts of Naples, is the most conservative congressional district in South Florida. NextGen already has a presence in Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo's district and the open seat held by retiring Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. The Miami-Dade seats are among 35 House seats the group is targeting nationwide along with Florida's U.S. Senate and governor elections. 

NextGen said it has collected nearly 3,000 voter registrations in Ros-Lehtinen's district and about 1,500 in Curbelo's as of October 1. The group has knocked on about 15,000 doors between the two districts and over 87,000 doors across the state of Florida. 

Steyer was an early backer of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum and has vocally stated his support for liberal priorities like impeaching Trump that some Democrats worry will hurt them at the ballot box. Barzee Flores said she would work to impeach Trump while running in the Democratic primary for Ros-Lehtinen's seat, and hasn't changed her position since switching races to a more conservative district that Trump narrowly won in 2016. 

NextGen also announced plans to get involved in Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan's district in the Sarasota area and an open Central Florida seat occupied by retiring Republican Rep. Dennis Ross, two seats where Republicans are favored but Democrats see as potential pickups. The group is already active in Democratic Central Florida Rep. Stephanie Murphy's district and Republican Rep. Brian Mast's Treasure Coast distirct.